The imperial city of Vienna will always be remembered as the dramatic backdrop for the life of the most famous Empress, Sisi, immortalised on the big screen by the divine Romy Schneider. You can walk in her footsteps at Schönbrunn Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the extraordinary imperial residence that dates back to the 14th century and was remodelled and given an extravagant Rococo look by Maria Theresa of Austria, the wife of the Sun King. Schönbrunn Palace is exquisitely beautiful and incredibly grand, with its impressive Great Gallery and the charming Blue Chinese Salon, not to mention the stunning formal gardens in the park. At the other end of the charming paths, you’ll find Vienna’s Zoo, the oldest in the world, now home to some of Europe’s incredibly rare giant pandas.
Continue your journey through historic, romantic Vienna in the Volksgarten, a public park which is home to a Neoclassical temple. Enjoy some delicious tea in its café, where intimate concerts celebrating the work of musician and composer Johann Strauss are still held. You’ll be tempted to seek out the soaring arrow of St Stephen’s Cathedral, the symbol of Austria’s capital city, delicately crowned by four narrow towers and home to some remarkable treasures including the relics of saints studded with glimmering gold and precious stones. Next head along the Spiegelgasse to the Albertina, the huge imperial palace belonging to the Habsburgs that has been charmingly converted to house some stunning masterpieces, providing a grand backdrop for gems by Modigliani, Manet, Cézanne and the Austrian-born Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. However, you’ll find a more extensive collection by the latter, an artist and a poet, at the Leopold Museum, in the bustling museum quarter, beyond the famous Ringstrasse. “It is my will!” exclaimed the Emperor Franz Josef when this magnificent ring road that surrounds Vienna was built. It has become a magical tourist route for thousands of runners from around the world who flock here for the Vienna Marathon, as it is home to the most aristocratic of palaces and dazzling buildings the old imperial capital has to offer, including the Opera, the Burgtheater and the Museum of Natural History.
Like a two-faced Janus, the city is a successful mix of its remarkable past and its vibrant present. Gaze up at the stunning decorative façade of the HundertwasserHaus. At the Vienna Naschmarkt, crowds flock to the wide array of tempting stalls and the pretty bars and restaurants with their contemporary, trendy architecture. After you’ve satisfied your hunger and thirst, it’s time for music lovers to fulfil a different need. In the summer, there are all sorts of concerts to choose from at the Donauinselfest, the biggest free music festival in Europe. Then you can succumb to the chill of autumn and enjoy the glamour of the Viennale, an international film festival, before warming up at the Christkindlmarkt, the ultimate Christmas market that fills the cold December air with the scent of cinnamon and gingerbread. The festivities continue in the spring with the Life Ball in Vienna, a charity event that attracts a host of international stars. A trip to the Wien Mitte (or The Mall), with its fifty shops and restaurants, is a sophisticated, seductive experience. If you still have the energy, head to the Lugner City Vienna, where you can celebrate your shopping spree with a breath-taking show.